December 9, 2023

Four Mississippians challenge obscure law, dating back to the Reconstruction Era, meant to keep Black Mississippians from being elected in certain races. Why? For the first time in almost 150 yrs, a Black candidate could win a statewide elected position.

Jennifer Riley-Collins, a Black woman and Democrat, is running for state Attorney General. The law being challenged requires candidates for statewide office to win not just a majority of the vote, but also a majority of the 122 districts in the state House.

Essentially, this means Riley-Collins could win a majority of statewide votes, but not a majority of the House district votes to be elected. Although Black people make up 38% of the state, we are a majority in only 42 of the state’s 122 House districts, according to NPR.

The law, created during the state’s Constitutional convention in 1890, was explicitly created to suppress the Black vote according to experts. Even lawyers for the defendants concede that the law has a discriminatory origin, but claim the plaintiffs haven’t suffered any harm.

Defense attorneys say that the law has never prevented an African-American preferred candidate who won the popular vote from taking office and, so, the plaintiffs’ claim that the law discriminates against African Americans is unsubstantiated.

Instead the defense argues that the defendants are arguing discrimination based on their political party affiliation and not their race. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn are named as co-defendant’s.

The defense states that the allegations in the complaint and the timing of the suit suggests that it is not about race or vindication of wrongs to Plaintiffs’ right to vote, but is simply partisan politics at play considering upcoming November elections.

However, plaintiffs argue that the Popular Vote Rule has/will continue to ensure that, even when an African-American-Preferred candidate wins the popular vote, they are unlikely to be elected due to the House Vote Rule-again because African-Americans don’t make up the majority of districts.

Plaintiffs are challenging the law’s constitutionality because since its creation it has been used to suppress the Black vote and thereby has kept any African-Americans from being elected to statewide positions. McLemore v. Hosemann, seeks to prevent this from happening again.

Proceedings began Friday, October 11, 2019, in federal court in Jackson, MS. Whether there has been an instance for a racist law to come into play weighs less than the fact that the law exists at all. If there’s no question about its racist intent, then this law should be struck down.

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